FLUID SCHEME: New Pal joins in eyeing riverfront districts

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NEW PALESTINE — No river runs through it. However, the town is considering taking advantage of a state law that would create a riverfront district to encourage economic development.

A stream, creek, or even water in a ditch might be enough for town officials to identify one or more riverfront districts. Such areas, usually created as entertainment districts along waterways, allow a greater concentration of restaurants that serve alcohol.

One of the ideas behind the law — and the one that has attracted the attention of enterprising communities throughout the state — is to make more liquor licenses available to establishments such as restaurants in areas where no further licenses can be issued. That’s the case in New Palestine and other communities in Hancock County who have or are considering such a move.

“You can have multiple waterfront development districts, and that can help get around the limited number of licenses available,” said Bill Niemier, president of the town council.

Niemier, who makes a living as a business development attorney, said once districts have been created, the Indiana Alcoholic Beverage Commission would still have to grant the liquor licenses. Permits for businesses within 1,500 feet of the “river” are the kind being approved.

“The criteria for the definition of a waterway is very flexible,” Niemier said. “It’s not limited to a large body of water.”

Types of liquor licenses in the county include for the sale of beer; the sale of beer and wine; and the sale of beer, wine and liquor. There are licenses that allow on-premises consumption, while others will only allow for the purchase of alcohol to be consumed away from the premises.

The type of licenses that would be allowed through a riverfront development district include the kind needed for a restaurant or bar. While the cost of a normal liquor license could be as much as several hundred thousand dollars, depending on location and availability, liquor licenses made available through riverfront development districts are far cheaper, Niemier noted.

Cities and towns all around Indiana have been using this special designation to get around the state’s alcohol permitting law, which provides licenses based on population. Dozens of towns have or are seeking the designation, including Fortville, McCordsville and Greenfield, which have approved riverfront district ideas. Greenfield used Brandywine Creek in its designation. Fortville and McCordsville used large drainage ditches.

According to information from the Indiana Alcohol and Tobacco Commission, there are more than 270 riverfront development district liquor licenses for serving beer, wine and spirits across the state.

Officials in New Palestine feel, they, too should have at least one of the development areas and take advantage of the current law.

“This is an economic development tool that we are not currently using, and I don’t see any reason why we should not join the growing number of local governments using this,” Niemier said.

Council member Angie Fahrnow agreed with the idea, saying for years people in town have been asking the council for economic development that would include an established franchise restaurant where people can order alcohol.

“Having that riverfront designation is a great way to entice businesses,” Fahrnow said. “These are the kinds of establishments residents want.”

Fahrnow noted there are huge chunks of land along U.S. 52 that would probably sell within days if the areas were designated part of a riverfront development.

Niemier brought the idea to the council several years ago, before he joined the board, but officials then did not want to move forward.

“People looked at me back then, when the designation wasn’t being used as much as it is now, like I was crazy, but this is something the town needs to take advantage of as soon as possible,” Niemier said.

Town officials have asked their attorney, Ted Nolting, to look more into the process and see if designating riverfront development districts is feasible.